February 19, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

“Gone Girl” Read-Alikes | Adult Books 4 Teens

Not all teens want romantic beach reads for the summer—–some want exciting thrillers that keep their minds off Snapchat for a few hours. In this column, we’ll be taking a look at six electrifying novels that can be easily handed to young adults this summer.

Hand Laura Lippman’s Wilde Lake to readers who flew through Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman. Lippman is no stranger to best-selling crime novels, and for this standalone family drama, she was inspired by Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird—–there’s even a scene about a young girl criticizing someone’s table manners. As a child, Lu is affected by a grand jury case that acquitted her own brother of murder. Now as a grown woman, Lu is a state’s attorney like her father, but her sense of justice is threatened when family secrets are revealed.

Another work that uses flashbacks is Beth Hahn’s The Singing Bone. I grew up reading her mother Mary Downing Hahn’s spooky stories, like Wait Till Helen Comes, so I’m delighted that her debut novel is a psychological thriller. Alice is a folklore professor whose world is upended when a filmmaker intends to expose her story. In 1979, teenage Alice was enthralled by cult leader Jack Wyck, but she testified against him when he was charged with murder. Now he’s up for parole, and she must confront the past. Teens will be intrigued by the Charles Manson–like cult leader and curious about how a seemingly normal teenage girl can be sucked into terrible deeds.

It seems like every hit thriller this year is being compared to Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl or Paula Hawkins’s The Girl on the Train, and our next novel is no exception. Mary Kubica’s Don’t You Cry has two narrators: Quinn, who is trying to find her missing Chicago roommate, and Alex, who is attempting to kindle a romance with a stranger at his diner. An unreliable narrator, some surprise twists, and characters in their early 20s and late teens make this mystery a must-read for YA fans of psychological thrillers.

Next up is a small press smash hit—Jonathan Janz’s Children of the Dark. Our reviewer mentioned that it read like a “really good” teen horror novel, even though it was published as a prequel to the author’s adult horror novel Savage Species. Library Journal contributor Becky Spratford recommended Children of the Dark to readers who are missing old-school Stephen King, so of course it’s going to be a hit with teens. This coming-of-age thriller, which boasts a vintage-looking cover, might be just what your teens need this summer.

Most readers are familiar with Stephen King’s Under the Dome—the book or the television series. Or perhaps they saw the town of Springfield being sealed off from the outside world with a dome in The Simpsons Movie. In Rosalie Knecht’s well-written small press literary debut, Relief Map, a small Pennsylvania town of 150 people is sealed for a different reason—a terrorist is hiding somewhere within its borders. The FBI and police declare the town closed, and 16-year-old Livy and her friends must cope without electricity despite the boiling summer heat.

Appropriately for the end of the column, our last selection is an apocalyptic thriller—Joe Hart’s The Last Girl. Twenty-year-old Zoey was raised in captivity with a few other girls, only to discover that she truly is special—a disease has resulted in almost all babies being born male. The remaining female children are coddled, protected, and imprisoned for Earth’s sake. Zoey rallies against the government, and the over-the-top action might be just what teens are looking for—a fast-paced dystopian action thriller.

singingHAHN, Beth. The Singing Bone. 320p. Regan Arts. Mar. 2016. Tr $26.95. ISBN 9781942872566.

Quiet, studious Alice Wood is forced to face her past when filmmaker Hans Loomis approaches her about including her story in a documentary about cult leader Jack Wyck in the 1970s. Although Alice has sought obscurity after the events of that summer, which led to Wyck’s imprisonment, it soon becomes clear that Alice will be outed either by the filmmaker or a group of Wyckians, who still admire Jack Wyck despite his conviction. In her debut, Hahn intertwines Alice’s experiences with free love and drugs and her search for enlightenment as a teenager with her desire to remain anonymous as an adult. The chapters alternate between 1979 and 1999, but Alice’s stream-of-consciousness narrative sometimes blurs the line between past and present. This book demonstrates convincingly how an intelligent, well-liked, and respected high school student can suddenly find herself involved with a man on the fringes of society. Although teens need to navigate between two narrators and two different time periods, those who appreciate psychological thrillers will keep reading for answers. VERDICT A good choice where Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl and Paula Hawkins’s Girl on a Train are popular.–Krystina Kelley, Belle Valley School, Belleville, IL

lastgirlHART, Joe. The Last Girl. 384p. (The Dominion Trilogy: Bk. 1).  Amazon/Thomas & Mercer. Mar. 2016. pap. $15.95. ISBN 9781503952089.

Zoey is almost 21, but she isn’t looking forward to leaving the ward and going to the Safe Zone to meet her parents. She’s been held in the prison her entire life, along with a few other girls, who disappear after the coming-of-age ceremony. The National Obstetric Alliance is protecting the young girls while researching the epidemic that causes nearly all babies to be born male. Zoey isn’t sure what she’s doing, but she escapes, finding refuge with rebels in the woods surrounding the compound. Quickly, she learns the truth of her world and government and plots revenge. Zoey and her new friends must break into the compound and rescue the other female prisoners. Readers will have to suspend disbelief—Zoey is inexplicably skilled at everything she attempts in the outside world—but the action is fast-paced, and the book is a quick read. VERDICT Purchase for libraries where teens are still clamoring for dystopian series.–Sarah Hill, Lake Land College, Mattoon, IL

DarkJANZ, Jonathan. Children of the Dark. 398p. Sinister Grin. Mar. 2016. pap. $17.59. ISBN 9781944044145.

Taking care of his six-year-old sister and his mother, who is addicted to drugs, has forced 15-year-old Will to grow up quickly in his small Southern town of Shadeland. Will and his group of outcast friends face the usual torments: bullying by the in-crowd and girls who seem just out of reach. But things are not always what they seem. Mia, the girl of Will’s dreams, seems to reciprocate Will’s feelings. All goes well—until the bullies enter the scene and one of the girls is hauled off into the woods by a monsterlike hand. An intricate, intermingled plot involving evil creatures keeps this title from being a typical coming-of-age story. The first half of the novel introduces the characters and backstory, and by then, the mayhem of a serial killer and mystical monsters becomes believable, though readers will be wondering what’s going on. The implausibly irresponsible police officers might be problematic if this book were a more realistic tale, but in a more fantastical genre, they make sense. VERDICT This book will be hit with a wide variety of high school and older middle school students.–Jake Pettit, Enka Schools, Istanbul, Turkey

reilefKNECHT, Rosalie. Relief Map. 287p. Tin House. Mar. 2016. pap. $15.95. ISBN 9781941040225.

When the electricity goes out in Livy Markos’s town of Lomath, PA, the residents’ immediate concern is the stifling summer heat. But when the police and FBI close access roads to the town, it is clear that the residents are dealing with more than a routine power failure. A fugitive from the Republic of Georgia is on the loose, and as days pass, the residents begin to dispute law enforcement’s strict ban on travel outside of the town. Livy and her best friend, Nelson, become part of a classmate’s plan to escape to retrieve medication for his mother. Livy’s quiet summer is upended by a series of events that force her to deal with a variety of moral issues. These dilemmas, as well as global issues of terrorism and the reach of law enforcement, are what make this book a strong conversation-starter for YA fans. The small-town setting, while unique in its description, contains a universal collection of characters to whom readers will relate. Perhaps what will resonate most with young adults is Livy’s transition to a more sophisticated, although complicated, perspective on her relationship with Nelson and her parents. In both cases, Livy is forced to see things she overlooked and reconcile these truths with her own morals and feelings. VERDICT Teens will enjoy this well-written novel as a fine piece of storytelling; it’s also a wonderful option for book club discussions.–Lynn Rashid, Marriotts Ridge High School, Marriottsville, MD

cryKUBICA, Mary. Don’t You Cry. 320p.  ebook available. Harlequin/Mira. May 2016. Tr $26.99. ISBN 9780778319054.

Twentysomething Quinn is awakened from a hangover one Sunday at 6:00 a.m. by her roommate Esther’s blaring alarm clock. Esther’s window is open (odd during a Chicago winter), but Quinn becomes concerned about her roommate’s absence only when she selfishly craves the breakfast Esther usually brings her after church. The police aren’t worried yet, but Quinn enlists the help of her cute coworker Ben to help find out where her roommate might be. They uncover clues that lead to Quinn suspecting Esther of murder—is Quinn next on her roommate’s death list? Meanwhile, an hour up the coast of Lake Michigan, 18-year-old Alex has given up a college scholarship to wash dishes at a diner in order to care for his father, an alcoholic. When he notices a mysterious, beautiful girl in his restaurant, he befriends her, hoping for a romance. Told in alternating voices, Alex’s and Quinn’s separate mysteries combine in a surprising way. Readers will immediately sense that Quinn might be an unreliable narrator, but the author doesn’t make the puzzle easy to solve. The unexpected twist at the end will be a bombshell for most readers. VERDICT The young main characters and the resemblance to Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl and Paula Hawkins’s The Girl on the Train ensure that this psychological thriller by the best-selling author of The Good Girl will be a hit with teen fans of the genre.–Sarah Hill, Lake Land College, Mattoon, IL

wildeLIPPMAN, Laura. Wilde Lake. 368p. ebook available. Morrow. May 2016. Tr $26.99. ISBN 9780062083456.

At 17, Lu’s older brother AJ was involved in the death of another teen. Though AJ walked away with a broken arm while the other boy was killed with his own knife, the event was ruled an accident. Lu idolizes her older brother almost as much as she looks up to her father, Andrew Jackson Brent Sr., a state’s attorney and a pillar of society in their newly minted utopian society of the late 1960s. Now Lu, aka Luisa, a state’s attorney herself, is the widowed mother of twins and lives with her aging dad. There is a new murder, and as Lu tries this case, connections to her father’s biggest murder case, links to her brother’s tragic events, and all of Lu’s most vivid memories slowly unfold. The story is told in a series of flashbacks that are deftly handled by the author, and readers will assume that there must be a connection among all these deaths. The suspense of not knowing just what’s going on, the smooth writing, and the slight cliff-hanger effect of the alternating chapters will keep readers up late. This is much more than a mystery or thriller; the crimes are almost a mere backdrop to the personal stories of Lu and her family members. The honest portrayals of teenage AJ and his much younger sister growing up will have wide YA appeal. VERDICT First purchase for all high school libraries, and a great read-alike for fans of To Kill a Mockingbird.–Jake Pettit, Enka Schools, Istanbul, Turkey


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Sarah Hill About Sarah Hill

Sarah Hill is SLJ's Adult Books 4 Teens cocolumnist and an information services librarian at Lake Land College in Mattoon, IL.

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  1. Jonathan Janz says:

    Thank you so much for including Children of the Dark on this list. I’m honored to be mentioned with such fantastic authors.